In 1987 when I worked at Video Wisconsin (the first round), I had the opportunity to project lead an exciting project called Style and All that Jazz, produced for the Kohler Company. It was a big budget video with a four week turn-around time right in the middle of winter and the holidays. Back in “those days” creativity was somewhat limited by the technology and simple things took forever. There were a lot of great memories from that project, mostly from working with the talent of individuals who have since moved on to other business endeavors. I thought you’d like to hear from some of them and see what it took to put together an award winning video with only six key people involved. First up is Scott Brader. Scott was part of a three person production crew of which I was one and Ralph Metzner was the other.
This is what Scott Brader (who has since left the video business) had to say:
Working on a high-end film and video crew can be both the most fun and the most miserable job you’ll ever have; sometimes both at the same time. It’s a joy to work on exciting and rewarding projects alongside the most talented production people in the region. It’s miserable when faced with ridiculously long hours, demanding clients and sometimes touchy talent.
Perhaps no project embodied this oxymoron more than Kohler’s “Style And All That Jazz.” This was a super high-end marketing shoot. Not some simple thirty second spot; this was three and one half minutes of pure art! The client insisted that this be the best; best sets, best lighting, best cinematography and best talent – including the nude models for the shower and bath scenes.
All in all, it became the hardest shoot ever! We spent weeks in pre-production; planning every set and the shot lists that would allow us to be the most efficient with the multitude of sets we had to build and tear down in the sound stage. There was custom music to be composed and careful technical design to ensure that every scene and every shot would fit perfectly into this artistic look at Kohler’s premium products.
The preparation work would be followed by weeks of production and even more weeks of post-production. The time frame was very tight. This would be rolled out at a major trade show. Everything had to come perfectly into place. The final product was stunning; one I’m still proud of today.
This project was both a technical dream and a technical nightmare for me. In addition to the “normal” task of getting all of the recording equipment properly set up, it was my responsibility to deliver hundreds of amps of electricity to light up massive scenes involving water; lots and lots of water.
Kohler provided a carpenter to build the sets. We built luxury bathrooms and artistic displays to properly emphasize the beauty and function of Kohler’s products. We built a building facade with the sidewalk in front. We built a hillside. Each set would be built for the necessary scenes, shot and torn down so we could move on to the next set. Throughout it all, every shot had to match the artistic theme and look perfect.
All of the shots involved intricate lighting set ups. Many of them involved water. We had to carefully run power to the lights, hanging extension cords from above in many cases to minimize the risk of water mixing with electricity. We didn’t properly plumb the luxury bathrooms, of course, so we had to deal with leaks and creative ways to drain the hundreds of gallons of water we were introducing to the sets. In addition to my “normal” responsibilities on the production cart once we started rolling tape, I had to also monitor the cables snaking through the set; ready to react immediately if water appeared anywhere near the power cables. We had more than one “emergency” shutdown as water tried to mix with electricity.
To make it even more complex; Kohler’s products are beautiful and shiny. Shiny things are very hard to light and even harder to shoot. You can get away with a lot if the shots are still; but that wouldn’t have been very artistic. We wanted every product to shine, but we couldn’t have any spurious reflections. Most of the sets ended up looking like a C-Stand farm. We took massive amounts of time – time we didn’t really have – mounting gobos, fingers, flags and dots and moving lights to get each shot of the shiny products without flares or specular highlights; except for the ones we were creating intentionally.
We had faucet displays that revolved. We had camera shots that moved. We had moving shots with moving water.
Many of our sets involved swapping out products to give the editors the ability to make one faucet morph into another; seemingly without any shifts in the camera, product or set pieces. We spent hours in a repeating cycle.
Mount a faucet.
Take the shot.
Remove the faucet.
Over time, I believe we shot every faucet in Kohler’s line in every finish they offered.
We shot every tub, sink, whirlpool, shower, toilet and bidet.
Everything was shiny.
Most of the shots included water.
The schedule didn’t allow us time to bask in the glory of getting a print and a safety on every scene. Ralph and the client would give their blessing to the shots and we would rapidly tear everything down so we could start the entire cycle again. Any delay was expensive. Sometimes very expensive.
Stress levels took a quantum leap each time we had a shot involving a nude model. While people outside of the business tend to think we were the luckiest guys on the planet when we got to work with beautiful women who also happened to be naked; that thought could not be further from the truth. Any scene involving nude models required much greater attention to detail during the setup. Unessential personnel would have to be out of the room before the model’s robe came off, so it became a skeleton crew – making the rest of our jobs that much harder. To make it even worse; the model is on triple time from the moment she removes her robe until the moment it goes back on. Every minute is very expensive. Every take is eating away at the budget. Every mistake is magnified.
The “easiest” shots came on the relaxed days shooting “the band” playing the theme song. Life on the set was much easier when we were merely dealing with musicians and talent instead of water and electricity.
We spent innumerable hours over the course of several weeks getting everything wrapped. Clients pay for a full day of work. Of course a full, ten hour day of shooting actually equals much longer days for the crew. We would show up a couple of hours before we planned to roll tape for the day and be tying up loose ends sometimes for hours after the final wrap. It’s a good thing that we shot “Style And All That Jazz” when I was in my twenties. I certainly couldn’t survive that schedule today; but I still look back at it as the best shoot ever.
I have told many people about that shoot through the years. They’ll never truly understand, of course. It was some of the most wonderful and the most miserable weeks of my life.
I wish I could do it all again.